Mars explorers will include women, experts say

Nov 11, 2011 by Kerry Sheridan
The reflection from the visor of a Chinese astronaut suit on display shows the interior of the space museum in Beijing in 2010. Men walked on the Moon, but women will be among the pioneering explorers who someday step foot on Mars, said a gathering of top female space experts this week.

Men walked on the Moon, but women will be among the pioneering explorers who someday step foot on Mars, said a gathering of top female space experts this week.

Plenty has changed since and 11 male successors left their footprints on the Moon from 1969 to 1972, but lingering stereotypes still harm young girls and not enough women reach the upper levels of planetary science, they said.

Some of the leading women at NASA, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and other organizations came together for a two-day meeting in the nation's capital to discuss their work, how they made it and how the next generation can, too.

"We should tell more girls that this is not a male world," said organizer Artemis Westenberg, president of the education and lobbying group Explore .

Of the 350 women in the United States with doctorates in planetary science, only 39 are employed at NASA, according to Susan Niebur, a mission consultant and founder of Women in Planetary Science.

"I wonder, where are the other women and what amazing science explorations might they have proposed?" she said. "We are still losing a lot of women in the pipeline."

Some women have made it onto the management teams of recent Mars projects, but in small numbers, according to an analysis presented by Linda Billings, a research professor at George Washington University.

A picture released by NASA shows an artwork produced for NASA by US artist Pat Rowlings depicting a female astronaut of the future looking for rocks on the "red planet" during a 21st century space mission to Mars.

For instance, the management of the 1997 Mars Pathfinder project had seven men and one woman; the 2004 project had two women and eight men; and two women are among 13 male "key team members" of the Mars Science Laboratory set to launch later this month.

Those who have made it have faced obstacles, ranging from trying to maneuver in spacesuits designed for men who are six feet (1.8 meter) tall to facing blunt cultural biases about the role of women.

Astronaut Cady Coleman, a veteran of two who has lived aboard the with male colleagues for six months, shared her frustration at constantly being asked, by media and others, if she missed her family back on Earth.

"People would say 'How does it feel to be away from your son during all this time?' And part of me wants to say, 'Do you ask the guys these questions?' Because they actually don't, and it is wrong for two reasons:

"One, the guys miss their kids and their spouses just as much; and two, we are doing this because we think the work that we do is important."

When a male guest in the audience rose to ask her how female astronauts managed their menstrual periods in space, Coleman did not flinch, explaining that she had had surgery and was past those days.

"But it is actually a valid question for just different cultural things," she said.

"The Russians are convinced that women on their cycle are going to ruin the toilet," she said. "We have the exact same toilet on the US side (of the space station). Turns out, we can use it," she said with a laugh.

Following their passions, learning to ignore biases and keeping focused on studying are key parts of their journey to top posts at NASA and beyond, the speakers said.

"We have to encourage our girls to work really hard. This is hard stuff and you have got to be prepared," said Sandy Coleman, director NASA exploration programs.

Women who are already working on the next Mars missions shared their research, from designing the spacecraft to devising science experiments to studying how to protect astronauts' health from bone loss and radiation during long-distance missions.

"It is not a question of who is better, faster, smarter," said Saralyn Mark, NASA chief health and medical officer. "What we have learned over the years is how to do specific countermeasures to protect the health of both men and women."

Mark also lamented the absence of women in a 520-day Mars simulation experiment that ended earlier this month and included six men -- one Chinese, one Italian, one Frenchman and three Russians -- camped in a Moscow parking lot.

"To some of our Russian colleagues, I think it was a fascinating experiment but it would have been more valuable to have both men and women. That is something that needs to be seriously considered."

Since Mars is 150 times further away from the Earth than the Moon, any trip there and back is likely to take a full year and a half.

The first human exploration mission, perhaps to one of Mars' two moons, may happen by 2033, said Linda Karanian, director of human space flight operations, though the crew is far from being selected yet.

"Eleven- and twelve-year-olds are probably where you want to start capturing the interest and the enthusiasm," said Karanian. "There is going to be a select few."

Despite challenges that may remain, the days when were excluded from space exploration are over, said Colleen Hartman, NASA assistant associate administrator, science mission directorate.

"Men went to the Moon but everyone will be going to Mars."

Explore further: Life on Mars? Implications of a newly discovered mineral-rich structure

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User comments : 27

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Pirouette
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 11, 2011
This may sound sexist, but a ship's complement of both male and female astronauts on the way to Mars and back would need the women to have either a hysterectomy, or a good supply of birth control devices. It would be unrealistic to expect no sexuality in such a mixture, and it would be a nasty turn of events for even one of the women to get pregnant, unless at the time of conception, the ship was nearing the end of round trip and closing in on Earth.
No facilities to accommodate a baby, although it would be interesting to find out the gestation period in outer space and effects on an embryo and foetus.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (4) Nov 11, 2011
No, they wouldn't need a hysterectomy. Tieing their tubes would work just as well, and wouldn't be a bad idea for the men as well. Besides avoiding pregnancies, the radiation exposure during the trip would probably make it inadvisable to have children afterwards.

As for studying pregnancy in space, the first step would be to send some rats to the ISS. The results would be available much quicker, and if they weren't successful, humans probably wouldn't do any better.
xznofile
not rated yet Nov 11, 2011
As for studying pregnancy in space, the first step would be to send some rats to the ISS. The results would be available much quicker, and if they weren't successful, humans probably wouldn't do any better.


Good idea, I haven't heard of that but it seems like something that should have already been done. We've been scraping for experiments for years.
Silverhill
5 / 5 (1) Nov 11, 2011
Since Mars is 150 times further away from the Earth than the Moon, any trip there and back is likely to take a full year and a half.
Unless one of the versions of the Mars Direct plan is used, in which case it's about 6 months each way (with an 18-month stay on Mars for exploration purposes, and to wait for the best return-to-Earth window).
http://en.wikiped...s_Direct
antialias_physorg
4.7 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2011
and it would be a nasty turn of events for even one of the women to get pregnant, unless at the time of conception,

Since the ones to actually go will likely be chosen to have already been through menopause this will not be a problem.

Older people are better.
a) You will want to have people who will not plan on reproducing anymore since radiation on that trip will likely induce sterility
b) Older people have slower cell division (which will decrease the chance of radiation inducing cancers - or at the very least delay onset)
nkalanaga
not rated yet Nov 11, 2011
And, since we want the absolute best qualified people, older crew would have more time for training and education. Unlike the Moon, we won't be making frequent short visits, so it will be hard to go back to recheck the first team's work.
Cynical1
1 / 5 (1) Nov 11, 2011
57, here - I'll go. It'll be tuff to quit smokin tho. ANd I don't know if they'll have a ship big enough for all the Crown Royal I'll need for the trip...
bluehigh
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2011
Cynical1, plenty of time to grow hydroponic tobacco or whatever. Just cut back a bit and work out how to vent the fumes. Must also be enough room for a smoking area and a bar with micro brewery, perhaps a pool table, juke box, sauna ..

ROBTHEGOB
4 / 5 (4) Nov 12, 2011
Damn - a floating blue-collar dive with cigars, pool, juke box, darts (that would be interesting), and dried-up post-menopause bar-hogs! Hell, sign me up!
Norezar
not rated yet Nov 12, 2011

No facilities to accommodate a baby, although it would be interesting to find out the gestation period in outer space and effects on an embryo and foetus.


That was my first thought.

I wouldn't be surprised if it's a half-intentional, unspoken outcome.
Nerdyguy
not rated yet Nov 12, 2011
and it would be a nasty turn of events for even one of the women to get pregnant, unless at the time of conception,

Since the ones to actually go will likely be chosen to have already been through menopause this will not be a problem.



I'm curious what makes you think this would be the case? Average age at mission acceptance, per NASA is 36. NIH says 51 is average age for menopause, though it ranges from mid-forties up to early 60s. Add to that the fact that these are exceptionally healthy specimens we're talking about and it's not unreasonable to expect a late menopause.
Pirouette
3 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2011
Well, NASA could choose only the ugliest and dowdiest healthy female specimens that passes all the exams and use THEM for the female parts of the crew. That should satisfy the Feminists.
Although ya know, after 6 months of no sex in a tin can, so to speak, at least SOME of the guys might decide that them gals aren't so bad after all. You know, like sailors out at sea for 6 months; how they act when their ship hits port. They'll find the ugliest looking females in a bar and treat them like a queen. LOL
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2011
As for studying pregnancy in space, the first step would be to send some rats to the ISS. The results would be available much quicker, and if they weren't successful, humans probably wouldn't do any better.


Good idea, I haven't heard of that but it seems like something that should have already been done. We've been scraping for experiments for years.

Yes, it would be interesting to see rat babies being born, as long as someone's there to take care of them. But now, with our heavy dependence on Russians to ferry astronauts to and from ISS, things are getting a bit iffy. How reliable is the Russian space program?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 12, 2011
I'm curious what makes you think this would be the case?

I took this info from a panel discussion with an ex astronaut (Thomas Reiter) on the future of space exploration (return to the Moon, Mars and beyond).
IlliterateGraduate
not rated yet Nov 12, 2011
Why are people commenting that they`ll have to be ugly women or have their tubes tied? Why not ugly men? or vasectomies all-round? Ridiculous. These comments just go to illustrate that there is still a lot of sexism in the science community.

Anyway, I think it would be a better decision to send a crew of just women. Probably less likely to become violent over the course of the journey. Require less food, less weight, etc. Lots of good reason to keep the boys off the trip. But I think it would be easier to find men willing to take the risk of a trip to Mars anyway.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2011
There are NO ugly male astronauts, but SOME of the women were kind of homely. The homely ones would keep everything focused on the trip and the science, but downright UGLY female astronauts would be less likely to turn a young astronauts fancy to "amour".
"Good reason to keep the boys off the trip"?? BOYS?? Now WHO is the sexist?
nononoplease
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 13, 2011
"These comments just go to illustrate that there is still a lot of sexism in the science community."

Or that men and women are, in fact, different--despite the wet dreams of our enlightened progressives.
nononoplease
1 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2011
"Anyway, I think it would be a better decision to send a crew of just women."

Why don't you ask the women about that idea. Turns out it's mostly women who don't want to work with women.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 13, 2011
We'll be sending scientists. Not testosterone-driven test-pilots (like in the early days of the space program)

By nature these guys and girls are a bit less emotional and more full in control of themselves over long periods of time. So we shouldn't worry too much.

And even if we send young astronauts: if anything does happen we'll just pack the pharmacy with a couple of RU 486.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2011
The RU 486 sounds about right. But how about sending men and women past the age of 60 to Mars. So far, we've seen what could be a bit of "age discrimination" in the manned space program. As long as older people are physically fit and still have all their marbles, so to speak, they should be recruited for the Mars trips. Or, a mixture of young and old men and women might work too. No sociopaths allowed.
Beard
not rated yet Nov 14, 2011
Always select based on merit but give the same opportunities to everyone. If the most qualified astronauts are male; the whole crew should be male. Rejecting a more qualified man for a less qualified woman, based solely on her gender, would be sexist discrimination.
MarkyMark
not rated yet Nov 15, 2011
They should send an all female crew of leading Feminists, and perhaps tell them after reaching marse that they forgot to menton it was a one way trip. Not much benifit to scince i agree but the Social benifit from the lack of the trully militant Feminists are probably worth it.
Nerdyguy
1 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2011
I'm curious what makes you think this would be the case?

I took this info from a panel discussion with an ex astronaut (Thomas Reiter) on the future of space exploration (return to the Moon, Mars and beyond).


I'd be curious then where he got his info. It seems to be out-of-line with the existing NASA selection process. Maybe it was just his opinion.

Of course, mandatory sterilization of all the males (easier of the two) would solve the whole problem. Because, let's face it, sex is not really an "option" for most people.

LOL, I've reconsidered and the above sentence should say "...sex is not really an "option" for most MALES.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 15, 2011
I'd be curious then where he got his info.

I can't really say.

I did find some info on when he said it, though: It was a press conference and subsequent panel discusion held on January 2007. Right after his return from the Astrolab mission on the ISS.

Other members of the panel were:
- Jeffrey Williams and Michael Lopez-Alegria (NASA astronauts) - Pavel Vinogradov ans Michail Tyurin (Russian cosmonauts)
- Bob Chesson (head of manned spaceflight division at ESA)

Since the comment didn't lead to any controversy among the people present I'd hazard that this was more than just opinion. But unless I go ask him I can't really say for sure.
Nerdyguy
1 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2011
I'd be curious then where he got his info.

I can't really say.

I did find some info on when he said it, though: It was a press conference and subsequent panel discusion held on January 2007. Right after his return from the Astrolab mission on the ISS....
Since the comment didn't lead to any controversy among the people present I'd hazard that this was more than just opinion. But unless I go ask him I can't really say for sure.


OK, thanks. This is an interesting topic. And sooner or later -- let's hope sooner -- we will have to be putting a good deal of thought into the arrangements on these missions. Also, I agree with your earlier point about more scientist = less testosterone. This will likely help. But, long term we need a realistic solution, as with luck we'll be going out past Mars. Even with improved propulsion, we're still talking many months to years in travel time. The military co-ed situation is rife with stories of unintended pregnancies.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 15, 2011
Well, I'm all for not sending humans. Don't get me wrong: I think it really tickles the mind to think of manned exploration of the planets (pr the universe) - but until we figure out how to do terraforming or get really good at making self contained megastructures and biospheres from scratch there's not much point.

Let's get some decent AI going and send that. Seems a much less ambitious (and more realistic and useful) way to go.
Nerdyguy
1 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2011
Well, I'm all for not sending humans. Don't get me wrong: I think it really tickles the mind to think of manned exploration of the planets (pr the universe) - but until we figure out how to do terraforming or get really good at making self contained megastructures and biospheres from scratch there's not much point.

Let's get some decent AI going and send that. Seems a much less ambitious (and more realistic and useful) way to go.


I agree entirely. Robotics and teleoperation has advanced enormously. And it's the perfect way to explore the dark, cold depths of deep space. Let the humans go once something really interesting is found. And, once our tech is better.